ShopColumbia plans for growth, new services

By Lauren Kelly

ShopColumbia, the on-campus store that features and sells student work, will begin to expand services for customers and become more involved with academic departments in the coming months.

The shop, located on the first floor of the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., has had increasing business from Columbia patrons and Chicagoans since opening Oct. 15 and is still evolving.

“We’re still in our infancy, perhaps toddler-hood,” said Kevin Cassidy, manager of ShopColumbia. “The next phases of ShopColumbia have not yet begun.”

One main goal for the future is to launch an online retail site where people can buy work that is in the shop and have the merchandise shipped to them. Cassidy said they were hoping to launch the site this summer, but it won’t happen because of many complications and logistic problems involved in running a store online.

“There are multiple obstacles that come up with that,” said Anna Mary LeBlanc, the store’s coordinator. “It’s a little sticky.”

Cassidy said one issue is the shop also must have a secure Internet system to deal with sensitive credit card information and have the personnel and resources to manage it. He also said pricing taxes on merchandise will be difficult.

“We need to conform to the tax laws regarding what we do,” Cassidy said. “We’re not a regular retail business.”

LeBlanc said another concern is managing the store’s inventory. She said because many of the items are one-of-a-kind pieces, it would be difficult to keep track of the merchandise and update the site.

In the immediate future, the shop will add alumni to the list of selling artists.

“Right now [we allow submissions] one year after graduation,” LeBlanc said. “We’d like to expand that to all alumni.”

Another eventual goal is to set up a service bureau. It would provide ways for students to get work in their area of study.

Someone would come to us and say they needed to hire a photographer,LeBlanc said.

Students could book jobs through this program, working in their field of study.

Most ideas for the shop are still in the planning stages. Still, sales have been steady since the store opened.

Bridget Kennedy, a visual arts management graduate student who works at the store, said a lot of the work being sold is in the price range of $10-$30.

“We sell a lot of jewelry, paper arts, letterpress, zines and comic books,” she said. “Mostly gift-sized things.”

Although inexpensive goods have been top sellers, the store features fine art that has occasionally been sold.

ShopColumbia is also expanding within the campus to work with different academic departments.

“We’ve been able to branch out with classes around campus,” LeBlanc said. “They’re getting experience, and we’re getting free help. They’re working on furthering our goals and creating new ones with us.”

One project a class is working on is creating a display window to be installed in the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building. The featured work will rotate every semester.

Teaming up with classes and departments furthers the store’s mission of providing experience for students to learn the business of selling art and managing a store.

“It’s a learning opportunity for students,” Kennedy said. “It’s not just a place to sell your stuff.”

If a submission isn’t accepted, the committee that decides what work will be sold in the store provides feedback for students and gives advice to help them better their work to make it commercially viable.

“As an artist in school you learn how to create art,” LeBlanc said. “When you leave you don’t necessarily understand how to get that into the gallery.”

The shop will still be growing and changing while the new resources are starting.

“We are very anxious to move on to these next steps, but we don’t want to start into it until we’re sure we can properly manage it,” Cassidy said.